Douglas County Democrats were filled with excitement Tuesday night as they gathered in East Lawrence to watch midterm results roll in. But early optimism was dashed by a late loss for U.S. House of Representatives candidate Paul Davis.
Davis was leading for most of the night by an increasingly thin margin, but was eventually surpassed by Republican opponent Steve Watkins. The crowd thinned as the other major races wrapped up, and the 2nd District race turned in Watkins’ favor. Remaining attendees were excited about earlier results, but disappointed about the result Davis' campaign.
Davis gave a concession speech around 11 p.m. in which he announced the end of his time running for public office.
“I’m not going to back away from the things I believe in,” Davis said in his speech.
He was optimistic about the victory for gubernatorial candidate Laura Kelly, saying Democrats “have something to celebrate tonight.”
After a contentious race, Kansas' gubernatorial election was called for Democrat Laura Kelly.
Watkins celebrated his victory with GOP supporters in Topeka following a concession speech by Republican gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach.
“A year ago, I launched a campaign to bring conservative Kansas values and military leadership to the politicians on Capitol Hill,” Watkins said, standing on stage with his wife and supporters. “Since that day, tens of thousands of Kansans across the 2nd District have rallied behind my campaign to usher in a new generation of political leadership.”
“The victory is not mine, the seat is not mine, it belongs to the people of eastern Kansas,” Watkins said. “God grant me the wisdom to serve.”
Watkins said he had the utmost respect for his opponent Davis.
“Putting yourself out there in public office is not an easy thing to do,” Watkins said.
Cathy and Claire Hersh, a mother-daughter pair from Wichita, said they were optimistic as early results came in at the Democratic watch party. Other attendees shared their hopeful attitude.
“We are hopeful, very hopeful, that it’s going to be a good night,” District 44 Rep. Barb Ballard said to the crowd around 8 p.m.
The crowd remained joyful as other Democrats won across the state and country. Eyes were on gubernatorial candidate Laura Kelly, who earned overwhelming support from the crowd when shown on the CNN broadcast. The biggest cheer of the night came when her victory was called.
“I think [Democrats] will take us in a better direction,” said Patti Welty, a Lawrence resident who attended the watch party.
Secretary of State candidate Brian McClendon and State Treasurer candidate Marci Francisco made appearances early in the night, both excited about early returns from western Kansas.
“We have people who are running really good races,” McClendon said. “It looks good for Democrats.”
They both lost their races, but Francisco, who’s currently the state senator from the 2nd District, said in her speech that she could accomplish her goals as a senator or treasurer.
The end of the night was bittersweet for many attendees following the Davis loss.
“Just because these elections are over doesn’t mean we quit,” Douglas County Democrats chair Curtis Hall said.
Lara Korte contributed to this report.